Scientists discover 600 million-year-old origins of vision

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13 Mar 2010, 5:43 am

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By studying the hydra, a member of an ancient group of sea creatures that is still flourishing, scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a discovery in understanding the origins of human vision.

The finding is published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a British journal of biology.
Hydra are simple animals that, along with jellyfish, belong to the phylum cnidaria. Cnidarians first emerged 600 million years ago.

"We determined which genetic 'gateway,' or ion channel, in the hydra is involved in light sensitivity," said senior author Todd H. Oakley, assistant professor in UCSB's Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology. "This is the same gateway that is used in human vision."

Oakley explained that there are many genes involved in vision, and that there is an ion channel gene responsible for starting the neural impulse of vision. This gene controls the entrance and exit of ions; i.e., it acts as a gateway.
The gene, called opsin, is present in vision among vertebrate animals, and is responsible for a different way of seeing than that of animals like flies. The vision of insects emerged later than the visual machinery found in hydra and vertebrate animals.

This work picks up on earlier studies of the hydra in my lab, and continues to challenge the misunderstanding that evolution represents a ladder-like march of progress, with humans at the pinnacle," said Oakley. "Instead, it illustrates how all organisms -- humans included -- are a complex mix of ancient and new characteristics."


Source:
ScienceDaily - Scientists discover 600 million-year-old origins of vision

Puts things in perspective. Humans shouldn't be so arrogant ;)


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LostAlien
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13 Mar 2010, 11:01 am

Cool.



Tetraquartz
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13 Mar 2010, 6:00 pm

Was curious, how do they come up with the age of these findings?


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Bluefins
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FredOak3
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18 Mar 2010, 10:27 am

Having worked in Ophthalmology for 20+ years found that fascinating, thanks!



PlatedDrake
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18 Mar 2010, 2:18 pm

Well, in a way its not surprising. Hydras are among the simpler life-forms on the planet, so they're technically the ancestral species for a lot of modern creatures. The human body alone is probably the culmination of who knows how many simpler creatures that have come together for the sole purpose of survival (gotta love symbiotic relationships). It would be interesting to see what creatures (or ancestors thereof) came together to make vertebrates and other larger lifeforms possible. :)



wendigopsychosis
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13 Apr 2010, 8:34 am

God, I'm blanking on the name, but there's a kind of starfish with similar optics going on. It uses crystals all over its body like "eyes."

Also, when anyone pushes intelligent design by saying "the human eye is so perfect" and all that crap, I like to bring up the mantis shrimp. Human eyes are definitely not the best (let alone the fact that lots of the animal kingdom have better sight than we do).
And, the human eye isn't "perfect," in the structure sense either... Our rods and cones are backwards, with a layer of interneurons in front of them. Octopuses have it the right way around ;)